Expert advice: how to ace Christmas Day
When it comes to cooking and kitchen appliances, there’s no greater authority than Fiona Mair. She’s been CHOICE’s home economist and kitchen test coordinator for 23 years and also cooks Christmas lunch for the whole organisation every December.
Described by her colleagues as “the secret ingredient of CHOICE“, Mair’s extensive knowledge on the best cooking methods and appliances stems, in part, from the many years she has dedicated to testing in the CHOICE kitchen labs. Here, she offers up her expert tips on how to plan, prepare and execute your festive feast this year.
Choose the right tools for the job
Mair’s number one advice on appliances? Use a food processor. “Choosing the right tool or appliance makes your life a lot easier when it comes to preparing lots of food,” she says. “A food processor is your Christmas secret weapon. They save time and effort better spent elsewhere in the kitchen, or spending time with the family.”
Also, make sure you have the right knife. Knives should be sharpened before you start preparing everything, Mair advises. Also check you have the right amount of baking trays, plates, bowls and other serving ware well in advance.
The size of your appliance can also make a real difference when it comes to cooking for a crowd, Mair says. “You’ve got to look at how many people you’re going to be cooking for. If you’ve got a family of five or six people, then you need to look at using some larger-sized appliances, like a larger food processor.”
“Don’t rely on a Christmas miracle – if you haven’t started planning, you’d better start now,” Mair recommends. “Start writing your lists – your shopping list, your preparation list, your guest list. Think about what you want to cook. If you haven’t had the time to start planning, right up to a week before is fine. Just remember that you’re going to have to deal with more crowds at the shops the closer it gets to Christmas.”
Mair also recommends a practice run of any recipes you haven’t cooked before, to avoid a kitchen nightmare on the day. “Make sure you test your Christmas recipes a couple of weeks beforehand,” she says. “Practice makes perfect, and no one is going to complain about taste-testing what’s to come.”
No one enjoys the crowds at the shops this time of the year. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to try and avoid them. Mair advises that you avoid the Christmas Eve rush and buy your fruit and vegetables a few days prior.
“Christmas Eve is the best time to pick up your seafood,” she says. “If you want to escape the worst of the crowds, get up early and head out to grab your seafood then.”
Change it up this Christmas
If you’ve got the time to test and prepare, don’t be afraid to try new recipes, Mair says.
“Christmas pudding is a staple for many families, but not everyone is a fan of this traditional dessert,” she says. “So consider offering alternatives. Make a chocolate pudding or, as it’s summer, you can’t go past a pavlova with fresh fruit.
“I like to make a peppermint bark with dark and white chocolate. And I always have lebkuchen, which is a traditional gingerbread cookie with lemon icing. The kids love them!”
Fiona Mair’s Christmas peppermint bark recipe
3 x 180g block of dark chocolate (not cooking chocolate)
3 x 180g block of white chocolate (such as Dream or Milky Bar)
1 packet of peppermint candy canes (crushed finely in a food processor)
1. Line a flat baking tray (approx. 50 x 30cm) with baking paper.
2. In a large microwave-proof bowl, break the dark chocolate up into pieces and heat on high for 1 minute, then stir and heat for another 30 seconds, stirring until the chocolate is melted. Stir the chocolate well once melted, making sure there are no hot areas. If the chocolate isn’t quite melted, microwave at 30-second intervals.
3. Pour the chocolate over the baking paper, spreading it evenly and thinly – approximately 3mm thick. Place in the fridge to harden.
4. Next, melt the white chocolate (following the same method). Once melted, add 1 teaspoon of peppermint oil. Quickly pour over the dark chocolate, spread evenly to cover.
5. Before it sets, sprinkle with the crushed candy cane.
6. Once hardened, break the chocolate into pieces and serve.
You can check out more of Fiona Mair’s Christmas cooking tips at CHOICE.com.au